With the construction of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's new Tappan Zee Bridge looming closer, state officials have begun courting the entire village of Tarrytown, where groups of worried homeowners continue to voice concern over the impact of the $5.2 billion project on their single-family residences.
In recent weeks, a flurry of visits from Cuomo's emissaries to the Irving and Tappan Landing neighborhoods have helped calm many fears. The governor's project leadership team, which has been touring Rockland and Westchester holding community informational meetings, is scheduled to make its first presentation to the entire village at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, at the Tarrytown Senior Center on West Main Street.
"They've never had a public meeting here and the village board felt that the Tarrytown public should have an opportunity to meet everybody and have a chance to speak," said Mike Blau, village administrator. "I think we're going to have a good turnout."
State project officials are getting acquainted with the problems in Irving, an eclectic mix of 40 private residences, ranging from centuries-old historic houses to a few McMansions, all packed into a triangular patch wedged next to the state Thruway Authority's toll booths on the southbound side of the bridge, a tract of land that also includes a Thruway parking lot and yard.
The Thruway plans to carve out a new road on its site and run it down to the river, where barges will unload bridge construction supplies to waiting trucks. The area will also be used by work crews.
"We have light, dust and pollution issues," said Victoria "Tori" Weisel, president of the Irving Neighborhood Preservation Association. Weisel and her husband own an 1890 colonial where they live with their three children. "But what we're most concerned about is the safety of our children and our homes."
Weisel said there are 30 children living in the neighborhood.
On Sept. 19, the residents are scheduled to have their first meeting with Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor and the leader of the outreach team that has been holding hearings on the bridge plans. A second member of the team, Brian Conybeare -- until recently an anchor with News12 Westchester -- has already visited.
The residents' immediate requests include the construction of permanent, high-quality sound barriers and replacement of the existing hodgepodge of torn netting, rotting wood slats and rusty chain-link fencing that now sections off one side of the Authority's property. The residents also want assurances that repairs will be made to any house walls or foundations that crack from the force of construction blasting, as well as help with the removal of dead water rats, woodchucks and other wildlife.
"A lot of living things are going to be trying to escape when they start blasting here, Weisel said.
Residents in neighboring Tappan Landing -- a tidy subdivision of houses built around the 1940s -- met Sept. 5 with Conybeare. Fred Gross, who lives with his wife in a riverfront Cape Cod they've owned since 1974, said residents felt "more comfortable" about the bridge's impact afterward.
Gross said they were assured that their westerly Hudson views would not be blocked; crews will work limited hours, and the new bridge will be only 100 feet closer to their development, rather than 100 yards closer, as originally announced, because the design footprint for the first 1,000 feet of the causeway has been changed to overlap that of the existing bridge.
Gross is resigned to the impact that the project will have on Tappan Landing property values.
"Quite frankly, who wants to buy a house where you have construction right outside of your yard?" he asked.
As a former Tarrytown fire chief and lifelong area resident -- 8 years old when the three-mile bridge first opened in 1955 -- Gross said his knowledge has him fearing for public safety. Gross feels that the bike and pedestrian paths planned for the new bridge will prove to be mistakes. Jumper suicides are one issue, Gross, said; accidents are another.
"It's an ill-conceived idea," he said. "This river can become very violent very rapidly. Wind and rainstorms move very fast. If you're pushing a baby carriage on the bridge and you're half a mile down, can you get back in time?"
Deputy Mayor Thomas Basher, a Tappan Landing resident who organized the meeting, said there are no more gatherings planned with bridge project officials, but he expected some might be arranged in the future as issues arise.